Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Ag Secretaries Speak

I caught part of a rerun of the panel of ex-Secretaries of USDA, sponsored by Farm Journal, on C-Span. Some thoughts:

  • there's not much here to please the greens. As you might expect, I find confirmation here for my ideas--the limited power of USDA administrators to act as Michael Pollan or others would wish. Money, and therefore OMB, is the prime factor.
  • these are politicans, not administrators. Instead of the President saying "do X", and their saying: "yes sir, right away". they are operators. There were discussions of allying with other Secretaries, with members of the President's staff, of Congress in order to get one's way. There were a couple instances of a Secretary (Block and Glickman) admitting they worked around OMB (meaning, at least in theory, the President).
  • the political mindset showed in discussions of possible reorganization. Most seemed to accede with Yeutter that it's just too difficult, that it's better to try to get good people, that people make more of a difference than boxes on an organization chart. On that point, I disagree. As politicians, these Secretaries have a short term focus. As administrators, you should have a longer term focus. (In their defense, most of them had a deputy secretary who focused on day-to-day management and the nitty-gritty of organization.)
The discussion did cause me to wonder whether John Podesta is doing a boot camp for the new administration memebers, just to go through, for those without experience, the process of moving regulations, getting a budget approved, coordinating message management, working with the Hill, etc.

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